A helpful book to understand the success of Donald Trump
The Unwinding, an inner history of the new America, by George Packer.
The Piedmont is a plateau of hardwood hills and red clay fields between the Appalachians and the Atlantic coastal plain, along the border between Viriginia and North Carolina. The mainstays of Piedmont life until the end of the 20th century were tobacco, textiles and the manufacture of furniture. Its industrial splendour ended with the strengthening of anti-tobacco regulations and the fierce competition from China, and today these depressed regions are still struggling to push forward and also wary of the Washington establishment. This shared feeling of abandonment from Washington in favor of big corporations and the elites of Wall Street or Silicon Valley, has proven to be a key factor to becoming 'Trump territory'.
What The Unwinding has to do with that? Well, the book is comprised of a selection of profiles of various American citizens, from the Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel to an Ohio factory employee, whom the author uses to explain the course of American lives over the last thirty years. Profiling these people also serves Parker to research about how they were affected by the financial crisis, Washington politics and the permanent collapse of the manufacturing industry, as well as to understand how this American obsession for success, based on making money transformed the American society and its values ( Trump would be a good example).
One of the main characters portrayed in the book is Dean Price, the son of a tobacco farmer's family in Piedmont, North Carolina, and a fan of Napoleon Hill's books (Napoleon Hill was a local entrepreneur who wrote several self-help books about personal success in the last century). Price is determined to bring the entrepreneurial spirit back to his hometown, stuck in a permanent crisis after the closure of tobacco companies and furniture factories, and he sets up a chain of gas stations and fast food restaurants on the mythical Route 220. His company did not succeed, but Price, originally a Republican and a fan of president Reagan, didn’t lose his entrepreneurial spirit.
His second business idea came to his mind when he realized the fuel shortage suffered in the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Price then decides to set up a biodiesel production company, which in addition will help to create jobs in his hometown. His biodiesel business relies on the work of several local farmers, who transform canola into biofuel. According to Dean Price, Washington is to blame for the stagnation of its region over the years, "and it blames both parties, Democrats and Republicans, for policies that favoured big corporations and made America’s small producers less competitive" writes Packer In his book. "I'm sick of it, I am sick of buying everything from China and overseas, and sending our dollars to petrodictators (...) Our politicians - both Republicans and Democrats - have never set foot on a farm, except to take a Photo OP”. They believe that the farms are jobs of the past, but it is not true”, says Dean Price when interviewed by the New Yorker journalist.
At the time of launching his biodiesel business, Price received support from the Obama Administration, which has just won the election and pledged to support clean energy initiatives through tax incentive programs. In 2009 Price sympathizes with Obama, despite living surrounded by Republicans. Nevertheless, the irruption of the financial crisis and the opposition of the Tea Party to the fiscal initiatives promised by the Democrat president resulted in Price’s company bankruptcy. This time, Price got angry with Obama: “He did not understand why Obama didn’tt do more to spell out his ideas for the new economy”, writes Packer . "Everybody had believed that Obama would get in there and tell the truth and not side with the multinationals, but maybe they bought him off… But the American people were thinking radical change back in 2008, not the status quo”. His disenchanting thoughts are not very different from the ones of his neighbours in Piedmont today. People who probably on Nov 8th voted for Trump.
5 more books to understand the Trump effect
Last summer, Marc Bassets, Washington correspondent for Spain leading newspaper El País, published a list of book recommendations to better understand the Trump phenomenon in the United States and the triumph of his anti-elitist speech: Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics; Senator Joe McCarthy, by Richard H. Rovere; The Populist Persuasion: An American History, by Michael Kazin; Who Are We ?: The Challenges to America's National Identity, by Samuel P. Huntington; and The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth.